Brazilian indigenous ethnology, Brazil National Museum (Digital Restoration)

The collection of Brazilian indigenous ethnology at the National Museum is among the largest in its type, covering more than 30,000 objects, produced by more than one hundred indigenous groups, from all regions of Brazil. This broad set – formed since the beginning of the 19th century, through field collections, acquisitions, legacies and donations – reflects the diversity and cultural richness of Brazilian native cultures, documenting varied aspects of their traditions, habits, daily life, social organization, beliefs and rituals. The wide time frame of this set, composed of pieces produced since the middle of the colonial period, it also allows the analysis of the development of indigenous material production, as well as the influences and impacts suffered, from the contact with the colonizers to the present day. The sets referring to basketry, ceramics, musical instruments, feather art, weapons and traps of the indigenous peoples stand out.

The museum’s basketry core is made up of approximately 900 artifacts produced through braiding with rigid fibers. Although it is not a specific technique of the indigenous people, fiber braiding is present in the material production of almost all Brazilian groups, being used since the creation of a mask base to the making of houses, including ornaments and musical instruments, with purposes that vary from ritual use to commercialization. The collection includes examples of baskets, baskets, baskets, bags, ornaments, cases, fans, sieves, weapons, nets and mats, representing over 70 indigenous groups, mainly from the North, Midwest and Northeast regions, such as Tenetearas, Tapirapés, Macus, Timbiras, Tarianas, Mamaindês and Tembés, among others. Among the rare pieces, the Tucanos ‘ braided shield, from the Uaupés river valley (one of the items highlighted by Gonçalves Dias during the Amazonas exhibition, in 1861) stands out; the Baquité dos Nambiquaras basket, from Mato Grosso, collected by the Rondon Commission in 1921; the Uarabarru dos Carajás offal kit, collected by Lincolm de Souza, editor of A Noite, and donated to the museum in 1948 by Colonel Leony de Oliveira Machado, etc.

The collection of indigenous ceramics is characterized by the diversity of origins, shapes, styles, ornaments and functions, making it possible to follow the trajectory of the traditional ceramic industry up to the current production and exemplifying topics such as the daily lives of different groups and the influence of the themes of the culture of mass in contemporary indigenous production, among others. The collection covers a wide number of household containers, such as pots, stands, pots, bowls, plates, vases, bowls, water jars and biju roasters, with specific types for ceremonial purposes, in addition to musical instruments, pipes, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic statuettes and toys. Represented in the collection, among others, are ceramic artifacts from groups such asAparaí, Uaurás, Assurini, Bororós, Iaualapitis and the people of Aldeia Uapuí and the Uaupés river valley. In the context of figurative ceramic production, the so-called Litxokô figurines, produced by the Carajás Indians, stand out in a modern style and refined decoration; the anthropomorphic pots and vases decorated with stylized figures and geometric patterns from the Cadiueus; the containers decorated with figures of animals in high relief of the Ticunas, etc.

The National Museum’s collection of indigenous musical instruments encompasses objects used mostly in religious practices, although “profane” musical production (related to mere entertainment) is also documented. Wind instruments (flutes, horns, trumpets and whistles) and percussion instruments (drums, rattles and rhythm sticks) predominate, with string instruments (musical bow) being rare. They are made from different materials, such as gourds, cuités, clay, wood, leather, animal bones and hooves, seeds, elites and taquaras. The musical instruments and music recordings of the Parecis and Nambiquaras Indians stand out, collected and produced by Edgar Roquette-Pinto in Serra do Norte, in 1912. Roquette-Pinto used a portable string-powered phonograph that allowed recording on wax cylinders. This material would later influence compositions by Brazilian musicians such as Heitor Villa-Lobos and Oscar Lorenzo Fernández.

The set referring to indigenous feather art houses a large number of pieces and is characterized by the multiplicity of origins – reflecting the very scope of this artistic expression in Brazilian territory, common to almost all known groups. The objects (made with bird feathers, shells, fibers and other materials) have varied purposes, from simple body ornaments to elements of social status distinction, as well as specific pieces for use in rituals, celebrations and parties. The collection includes headdresses, diadems, crowns, hoops, hoods, helmets, mantellas, foreheads, earrings, pendants, belts, scepters and masks. Among the groups most abundantly represented in terms of feather production, the Carajás, Tucanos,Mundurucus, Parintintins and Ricbactas.

The collection of weapons and war and hunting traps comprises both objects used by indigenous groups in hunting and disputes over land and resources (with other indigenous groups or along resistance to colonizers) and examples made for ceremonial use, as cultural symbols and elements of identity reaffirmation. Spears, bows and arrows are the most popular specimens among Brazilian indigenous groups, being abundantly represented in the collection, alongside clubs, wooden swords, blowguns, arrow throwers and darts, etc. The collection is characterized by the diversity of styles and decorative patterns, reflecting the very breadth of the cultural contexts of the producing peoples. Among the groups represented, there are theUapixanas, Iaualapitis and Carajás, among others.

The museum also has smaller nuclei, but highly representative of other aspects of the material culture of indigenous peoples, including the textile collection (equipment used for spinning and weaving and textile examples such as handbags, bags, hammocks, shirts, cloaks and ritual robes), masks diverse, generally associated with religious use (highlighting the large collection of masks by the Ticuna Indians and other groups such as the Javaés, Auetis, Meinacos and Uaurás), examples of home furnishings (such as monoxide benches carved in wood), canoes, ornaments bodily effects made with the use of different materials, among others.

Finally, the museum houses a collection of Brazilian indigenous languages, composed of a documentary nucleus (covering a wide group of languages belonging to different families and linguistic trunks) and a sound nucleus (with records of narrative speeches, myths, songs, sonorization of vocabulary, etc.), both in constant analysis and expansion, serving as bases for research and studies on indigenous societies, languages and cultures.


Testamentary legacy of Cerqueira Lima, Baron of Melgaço, to the National Museum, probably part of the set of Parintintim scepters that were part of the 77 set of the Gabriel Soares Room, in the Anthropological Exhibition of 1882.

Mother of Pearl necklace
Adornment belonging to the Guido Boggiani Collection. The adoption of Guido — a young Bororo adopted by a white family in the 19th Century — happened after the Mello Rego family’s contact with a group of “pacified” indigenous Bororo by the captain Antonio José Duarte. His adoptive mother, Maria do Carmo Mello Rego, created an ethnographic collection of the indigenous peoples of Mato Grosso, donated to the National Museum by testamentary legacy in 1895.

Anthropomorphous wood masks
Aweti, Waurá and Mehináku groups.
In the decade of 1940 an anthropological investigation work about the richness of the high-xinguanas’ fauna, flora, and culture, was initiated and lead by the researchers of the National Museum under the management of Heloisa Alberto Torres.

As part of this research, in the Ethnology field, were Eduardo Galvão and Pedro Lima, collectors of masks catalogued under the numbers 35.226 and 35.330, in the years of 1947 and 1948. A mask number 39.400 belongs to the Thomas Gregor collection, of 1974.
Tikuna Mask
This was one of the Tikuna masks observed and drawn by Debret during the French Artistic Mission (1816-1831) and published in his work Viagem Pitoresca e Histórica ao Brasil (“Picturesque and Historic Voyage to Brazil”)(1834-39). One of the highlights of the 18th Century collections at the National Museum.

Piece acquired by sir Haeckel Tavares, who purchased it from Frei Fidelis, a missionary at the High Solimões, in March of 1945.

Kadiwéu painted vase
Probably part of the Guido Boggiani Collection, at the end of the 19th Century.

Uaupés Shield
Braided Tukano shield
“Rare object, so much that there are many in the province that ignore its usefulness. Well woven, it resists the tip of a taquara or Curabi; light, does not make the carrier tired, and it can be managed as a good weapon of defense; easily portable, does not disturb the path.” Gonçalves Dias, Amazonas exhibit, 1861.

Bororo Pot
Pot with spheroidal salience, collected by Cristofer Croker during a field research of the Harvard project— Central Brazil Research in the decade of 1960.

Artisan: Xuréia.
Piece collected by Maria Heloisa Fenélon Costa, in 1959, as part of her studies on the artistic styles of the Karajá ceramics. The piece has a modern style, with loose and mobile members, strong visibility for the body painting and traditional hairstyle of the Karajá Indians.

Frontal feather band
Masculine adornment, made by the Tukano group, used over the forehead and tied to the nape as part of a set of head adornments.

Karajá basket for oddments
Braided straw case.
Piece collected by the writer of A Noite (“The Night”), Lincolm de Souza, and gifted to colonel Leony de Oliveira Machado, who donated it to the Museum in June of 1948.

Giant armadillo nail necklace.
This piece is part of a collection by the Rondon Commission among the Bororo, realized in 1923. It entered the museum in 1924.

Tikuna pot
Tikuna water pot with ornaments in relief: jaguar and alligator.
Collected by Curt Nimuendajú in 1941. The largest collection of the Ethnology Sector is Curt Nimuendajú’s, with over three thousand items. The Tikuna collection, of 1942, has 205 items. Nimuendajú collected artifacts and ethnological pieces among various indigenous groups, maintaining constant contact with the National Museum through its director, Heloisa Alberto Torres, who acquired the collections.

Occipital plates with plumes
Adornments of the Tukano group, used on the backside of the head, tied to the frontal band, accompanied by other adornments.
The use of this combination is restricted to men. Pieces donated to the National Museum by Visconde de Paranaguá. They were part of the Anthropological Exhibition of 1882 and are in the list of donations by the nobility published in articles in Jornal do Comércio (“Commerce Newspaper”) about the preparations for the exhibition.

Karajá Doll
Ceramics and Wax.
Sculpture made after the traditional standards of the confection of children’s dolls. Collected by William Lipkind in 1939. During the management of Heloisa Alberto Torres, an agreement was made between the University of Columbia, in the United States, and the National Museum, to co-sponsor ethnological studies in Brazil.

In the scope of this agreement, several ethnologists came here, Lipkind being among them. None of these professionals stayed very long in the Museum, but Heloisa tried to make the most out of their short stay to train young researchers to acquire collections for the Museum.

Set of feather artifacts, part of the Mundurukú collection, sent in 1830 to the Museum in boxes without a content list. It probably comes from a collection of the Langsdorff Expedition, as several boxes with pieces collected for this exhibition stayed in the state of Pará to be sent in future opportunities.

Through a comparison of the habits described in the travel journal of the French polygraph and drawer Hercule Florence, one can connect this collection to the Mundurukú of Santarém in 1829. There is still, in a document of the General Archive of the National Museum, an information that the boxes sent without a list were classified by Antonio Correia de Lacerda.

Basket (Baquité) Nambikwára
One of the biggest collections of the Ethnology Sector of the National Museum is the Rondon Commission collection, with circa1,500 items. As Rondon advanced over indigenous territory, his team would collect and send to the National Museum pieces and artifacts from various groups. This piece was part of a collection from among the Nambikwára in June of 1929.

The contact of the Rondon Commission with the Nambikwára was described by Roquette Pinto (ex-director of the National Museum that at the time occupied the naturalist position in the Anthropology Section), in his book Rondônia, in 1912.

National Museum in Rio de Janeiro
The National Museum, linked to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), is the oldest scientific institution in Brazil that, until September 2018, figured as one of the largest museums of natural history and anthropology in the Americas. It is located inside the Quinta da Boa Vista park, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, being installed in the São Cristóvão Palace.

The Museu Nacional/UFRJ is part of the Ministry of Education. It is the oldest scientific institution in Brazil and the biggest museum of natural history and anthropology in Latin America. Founded by D. João VI in June 6th, 1818, and initially based in Campo de Sant’Anna, it served the country to promote the cultural and economic development of the country.

Originally named Museu Real, it was incorporated to the Universidade do Brasil in 1946. Currently the Museum is part of the academic structure of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. The Museum located at Paço de São Cristóvão from 1892 — residency of the Brazilian Imperial Family until 1889 — gave to it a distinguished character if compared to other institutions of the area. It is the same place where the royal family lived for so many years (where D. Pedro II was born and the First Republican Constitutional Assembly happened), and today is the interface between memory and scientific production.

The National Museum housed a vast collection with more than 20 million items, encompassing some of the most relevant records of Brazilian memory in the field of natural and anthropological sciences, as well as wide and diverse sets of items from different regions of the planet, or produced by ancient peoples and civilizations. Formed over more than two centuries through collections, excavations, exchanges, acquisitions and donations, the collection was subdivided into collections of geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biological anthropology (including the remnants of Luzia’s skeleton in this nucleus)., the oldest human fossil in the Americas),archeologyandethnology. It was the main basis for the research carried out by the academic departments of the museum – which develops activities in all regions of the country and in other parts of the world, including theAntarctic continent. It has one of the largestlibrariesspecializing in natural sciences in Brazil, with more than 470,000 volumes and 2,400 rare works.